Validation and False Shibboleths

Published 6.1.2017
This is the second in what may become a series on why people should not look for validation in celebrities. For that matter, stop looking to other people for validation. Be your own role model.

The recent kerfuffle in the body positive (BoPo) movement over fat celebrities touting bariatric surgery benefits was not primarily spurred by Gabourey Sidibe, but rather by Ashley Nell Tipton. Tipton, for those readers who don’t recognize her name, is a plus-size clothing designer who won a season of Project Runway. Tipton now only won, but apparently did so while projecting a (fat) body positive message.

Fast forward a few years, and Tipton, based on her own health concerns, decided to have gastric bypass surgery. Apparently, Tipton suffers from depression and is on medication for that. She also began working with a personal trainer a few times a week, but lost no weight. Further medical examinations she realized that her blood pressure was high; she had a fatty liver; and was hospitalized with a skin infection under her fat rolls. At that point she began researching bariatric surgery and made the decision. After losing 50 pounds in the first month post-op, she gave an interview to People Magazine talking about the choice and the surgery in a very positive way.

In response, all hell broke lose in BoPo social media. Many BoPo believers feel betrayed. Others are angry. Most are both.

Virgie Tovar recommends letting the anger flow, and she accuses Tipton of gaslighting fat activists in the People interview. Her main beef seems to be Tipton’s contention that her choice of surgery is an example of “self-love” because the result will be better health. Self-love is a big precept of the (fat) BoPo (FaBoPo) movement, in other words the idea that you are perfect at every size and never, ever have any reason to lower your weight. In the end though, Tovar goes with the “it’s our toxic society” as the primary reason Tipton succumbed to her surgeon’s knife.

Let me pause here and state that while I argue that health at every size (HAES) is a lie, and that weight loss is both possible and sustainable, I am NOT a proponent of bariatric surgery. I can’t assert that there is never a reason of the surgery, but I think it should be avoided if at all possible. People can and do change their weight with lifestyle changes, mangling the digestive tract is not necessary.

The fact that both Tipton and Sidibe pointed to health issues they wish to resolve with weight loss is a big irritant for many. A primary HAES shibboleth is that weight is unrelated to health. As I’ve written any number of times, this is nonsense.

For HAES believers though, the problem isn’t that the shibboleth is wrong, it’s that the message hasn’t been conveyed convincingly enough to the rest of the world. Talk about gaslighting, this woman discounts Tipton’s health issues and blithely asserts that all of them were independent of her obesity.

Tipton is only the latest so-called “fat role model” to choose improved health over iconic “fathood.” Not all of them went the surgical route, but all of them in the end decided their life would be better if they lost a bit of weight. Yes, being in the public eye or working in the arts does bring with it pressure to be a certain size— for some, such as dancers, it’s part of the gig, unless you’re going to start your own company. Even then, you need to find an audience to survive, but that is a digression for another day. Neither Tipton nor Sidibe put the blame on their career forces, as both women were already successful.

Not every response was angry, even if Tipton’s choice was still judged to be the wrong one. This was among the most reasonable responses frankly. I don’t agree with all her points, but I can appreciate that her own self worth was unaffected by the personal choices of someone else. Joni Edelman, who was drummed out of the BoPo movement for her own non-surgical weight loss, also weighs in.

Having realized her own improved health resulting from a bit of weight loss, she condemns not Tipton, but rather the activists attacking her. And asks again, that if gaining weight is okay, why isn’t losing weight? She also doesn’t downplay the potential severity of the health issues Tipton relayed in the People article. In particular, she offers an explanation of the skin infection.

Her primary point though is that none of the details should matter. It was Tipton’s personal choice, and it was her right to make it for whatever reason.

And to make matters infuriatingly worse, this very callout culture so enamored with gaslighting routinely and systematically gaslights anyone with so much as a single chubby toe out of line with their personal politics. If you see their community as harmful, it is not the community’s fault, but your own. There is no effort to assess or interrogate the harm stated. Instead, you are accused of being the one who is harmful by speaking out. I don't know about you, but that sounds like the literal definition of gaslighting to me.

The basic BoPo message is a good one. Love the body you have not matter what size it is. However, does loving that body by definition mean never changing its shape or size?

The basic message of HAES, as I’ve written previously, is a good one as well. Treat your body, at any size, well. Feed it healthy food and keep it moving. But heaven help you if in doing so you realize that losing a bit of weight will make you healthier or increase your love for your body. That runs afoul of the health is not related to weight falsehood on which both BoPo and HAES founder.

BoPo and HAES are predicated on false shibboleths, which means there is always the risk that your chosen role model of validator will have a moment of truth and turn from the path. If your sense of validation is premised on their continuing acceptance of the shibboleths, betrayal is assured. Validate yourself.